Ron Heerkens Jr. recently interviewed me as part of his Cultural Stew podcast. He has a mini series called "Moments of Influence", in which people talk about how the media have changed us. I chose to talk about JRR Tolkien.
Ron did an excellent job guiding the conversation, editing, maintaining what was said. I still came away wanting to say more. It will not be 100%, it'll not even convey a portion of what I want to. But we try.
Legends of the Fall
When I first read the Ainulindalë, Tolkien presents his creation myth. In it, Eru (God) creates the Valar (gods) and teaches them to sing. At first they sing alone about what they care about, but slowly they learn to sing duets and small groups and
Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.
Finally, Eru gathers then and teaches them his Great Song. And they sing together. During this, one of the Valar tries to impose his own visions and there is strife in the music, and Eru changes plans, and more strife, and more changes
And it (Melkor's imposed vision) essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice, but it seemed that its most triumphant notes were taken by the other (Eru's) and woven into its own solemn pattern
He then "Behold your Music!" gives them glimpses of the world that their song patterned. Taught them that many things would emerge that they hadn't planned but were right. But, not everything, and the advent of man and their agency hid more from them. Eru then spoke "Eä! Let these things be", and the world was created.
There was so much more that I just skipped, but I immediately adopted this as my creation myth. Everything in my religious thoughts about this world is tinged by this story. How councils and empathy work. The nature of the Enemy's fall. Agency versus foreknowledge. Being comfortable using the word "myth" for something I believe.
Beren and Lúthien
This is one of the first stories Tolkien told. I just got another volume attempting to make this story coherent. I can't wait to read it. It ties in to the early stories of the Wars of the Jewels. It is reflected through a glass, daily in the story of Aragorn and Arwen. Fundamentally, it is a love story. Tolkien had those names engraved on his tombstone, as here identified with himself and his wife. It is a story of love, pain, loss, joy, change.
As the defining love story of my chosen mythology, it has informed my relationship with Elnora and colors how I view others. I'm still annoyed by the lyric in Frozen about how people don't really change, because Lúthien did, and I am. I recognize the danger of expecting change in your partner, but denying it's possibility... I have much to learn about love and passion and people.
Gandalf and the Eagles
I guess if we were to talk passion, this would be a topic that elicits it. In the books, Gandalf (and Radagast, and Saruman, and two others) are angels that have been sent by the Valar (let's go with gods) to support and succor those that oppose Sauron. In the books, the giant eagles are the spies and messengers of Manwë (the chief god).
The eagles work to counter the mistakes the gods have made, they work to keep the danger presented by the Enemy down to levels that can by overcome by those willing to fight. They're the reason there aren't dragons everywhere. They rescued Beren and Lúthien, and Bilbo and the Dwarves, and Frodo and Sam. But they didn't solve our problems. They didn't just carry the ring to the volcano. The eagles provided salvation after all Frodo et al. could do.
The mission of Gandalf and the other four Istari was to provide support and encouragement and succor to those fighting Sauron. He didn't force the council to fight the Necromancer, he didn't take the ring and destroy it himself, he didn't just shoot firebolts at every obstacle. Saruman tried to take the ring and win the war himself and fell. Radagast found something worthy and cared for it, abandoning his mission.
The eagles and Gandalf teach me about the nature of salvation and power and the limitations of righteous living and agency.
With purposeful capitalization
I've used a bunch of language of christianity in this post because that is my native language. I hope that that does not drive you away from Tolkien. He felt that the way to teach christianity was through example rather than allegory. Love and kindness and care for mankind (hi humanists!) rather than retelling the Christian stories with Lions. He understood that the world was complicated and not subject to trite rote answers. I'm still trying to learn those lessons.
There is so much more, and what I've written is inadequate to convey my thoughts. Let's go out and eat or run or picnic or whatever and chat.
Nai tiruvantel ar varyuvantel i Valar tielyanna nu vilya